Home > 1990, 20th Century, Challenges, Graphic Novel, Japanese Literature, Taniguchi Jirô > My Father’s Journal by Jirô Taniguchi

My Father’s Journal by Jirô Taniguchi

January 25, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

Le journal de mon père by Jirô Taniguchi. 1995 Not available in English, I think.

TaniguchiAfter reading Max’s entry about a graphic novel, Richard Stark’s Parker by Darwyn Cooke, I remembered that the Japanese graphic novel Le Journal de mon père had been sitting on my shelf for a few years. I decided to read it for January in Japan and let’s say it right away, this is the Japanese book I enjoyed the most, apart from South of the Border, West of the Sun.

Yochan lives in Tokyo when his sister calls to tell him that their father is dead. She’s still living in their home town Tottori. Yochan hasn’t been back for 15 years and, pushed by his wife, he decides to attend the wake which takes place the night before the funeral. The whole family is there and he gets reacquainted with them. It’s the opportunity for him to remember his childhood.

The family’s life was changed after the great fire which destroyed half of Tottori in 1952. Two-third of the city had been touched by the fire, which made more than 21000 casualties. Yochan’s father was a hairdresser and he lost his shop during the catastrophe. His wife’s parents lend him money to start again but he doesn’t like accepting a loan from them as they suspected that he married their daughter for her money. As a consequence, he starts working like a maniac to pay them back as soon as possible and this attitude will cost him his marriage. His wife meets someone else, follows her lover and leaves her children behind. For Yochan, this is the moment when he disconnected himself from his family. He resented his father for not keeping his wife, for separating him from his mom and he grew up with the idea of leaving his hometown. That’s what he did. He left to study in Tôkyô and only came back once.

Taniguchi2Taniguchi relates how Yochan slowly starts to understand his father and realizes that he never knew him, that he probably misjudged him and that he was beloved in his community. He also recreates the life in a Japanese town in the 1950s: the small shops and factories, the American soldiers and their food, the family businesses.

I really had a great time reading this graphic novel. It’s 270 pages long. The pictures are all black and white and beautiful. Each chapter starts with a one page image and then the story is told in a succession of images with dialogues or descriptions like a voice over. The characters don’t look Japanese, especially since they have Western eyes, like in mangas. The graphic form was a good medium to access Japanese culture. Things that are common and probably not described or explained in a novel are “given to see” in a manga. I looked at the clothes, the houses, the funeral, the city streets with interest. (Call me naïve if you want, but that’s what I did) I found the clothes interesting: some characters wear traditional Japanese clothes when others like Yochan and his wife wear Western clothes. His sister is more traditional: pictures of her marriage, she’s in traditional Japanese wedding gown. Picture of Yochan’s wedding, his bride is in a Western dress.

Taniguchi conveys a lot of emotions in his drawings and the accompanying narration. He shows us Yochan’s childhood memories, his feelings as an adult who hears things about his father that he never imagined.

Taniguchi1This story is partly autobiographical. Taniguchi comes from Tottori and has also spent many years away from his hometowns, his family and friends before coming back after a childhood friend had contacted him. For me, this is totally incredible. The idea of living in the same country as my family, only distant by one hour by plane and not visiting for more than a decade is unimaginable. I would never never do that and my parents would never accept it. They would play the guilt card until I give in and come to visit, or send a plane ticket or I’d see them coming to me, unannounced to see how I am or where I live. Different culture, I suppose.

It’s difficult to review a graphic novel, I hope I encouraged you to discover Taniguchi. As odd coincidences tend to multiply, there is an article about France and mangas in this week’s Courrier International. (A weekly paper that publishes articles from foreign newspapers in a French translation) Originally published in The Asahi Shimbum, this article explains how mangas are widespread in France and how it became fashionable in the 1980s thanks to cartoons on TV. I don’t know how it was in other countries but we watched A LOT of Japanese cartoons in France when I was little. It’s true you have shelves of mangas in bookstores. I’ve never tried any, simply because I didn’t know where to start but the article mentions several of them and I’m tempted to try. Unfortunately, I’m on a book buying ban. Sigh. This is so frustrating.

  1. shwetajani01
    January 25, 2013 at 11:37 pm | #1

    If only I could get this novel in English

    • January 26, 2013 at 5:55 pm | #2

      Sorry about that, I feel guilty sometimes when I write about great books that aren’t available in English.

  2. January 26, 2013 at 1:13 am | #3

    I’m not a fan of graphic novels, but this sounds interesting :)

    The idea of not visiting your parents is interesting too. Perhaps the distance between Tokyo and places like Tottori is psychologically a lot further than the map would suggest…

    • January 26, 2013 at 5:57 pm | #4

      It’s a great novel.
      At the beginning, it was 8 hours of train, if I remember properly but now there are flights. Isn’t it difficult to live on the other side of the world?

      • January 27, 2013 at 12:00 am | #5

        What I mean is that they are two different worlds – once you leave, there’s no going back ;)

  3. January 26, 2013 at 2:22 am | #6

    I second Tony, I’m not a fan of graphic novels either. The characters look westernised….

    • January 26, 2013 at 5:58 pm | #7

      That’s always the case in mangas and Japanese cartoons. In cartoons, they usually have HUGE eyes.

  4. Brian Joseph
    January 26, 2013 at 3:23 am | #8

    I read a few graphic novels years ago and I really liked them. I also have been slow to continue delving into this art form as there seems to be so much out there and time is so limited and filled with other interests.

    This one looks good. I like the fact that it is in back and white.

    • January 26, 2013 at 6:00 pm | #9

      Have you read Persepolis by Marjane Statrapi? It’s wonderful.

  5. January 27, 2013 at 10:01 pm | #10

    I’ve never read a graphic novel but always meant to try one. This sounds very good. It is quite long, so there is a real story. I guess it’s a great way to familiarize with a foreign country. I would prefer a coloured graphic novel. I’ve got one by Neil Gaiman but I’d like to read Persepolis as well. I can relate to not seeing ones parents…

    • January 27, 2013 at 10:03 pm | #11

      You need to read Persepolis or at least watch the film if you haven’t seen it.
      Le journal de mon père is really good too.

  6. acommonreaderuk
    January 28, 2013 at 10:35 am | #12

    I have only read one graphic novel – a life of Kafka. I think it was a good idea of yours to publish some photos of pages because it would be impossible to gain an idea of it otherwise. This looks like a very good diversion from “normal reading”. I hope your book buying ban does not go on for too long

    • January 28, 2013 at 10:58 pm | #13

      I want to try a real manga, one of those books that open on the other side and are read “backward”
      I should try the library.

  7. January 28, 2013 at 4:33 pm | #14

    Nice review, Emma! This looks like a wonderful book! I have read a few Japanese Mangas and liked them. I would like to read this book sometime. I wish it gets translated into English sometime. It is wonderful that you grew up watching Japanese cartoons on TV!

    • January 28, 2013 at 10:59 pm | #15

      Vishy, your French may be good enough to read this. It’s not very complicated. It’s a nice way to practice, isn’t it?

      • February 1, 2013 at 9:31 pm | #16

        Thanks Emma :) I will see whether I can get the French edition. It is definitely a nice way to practice.

        • February 2, 2013 at 7:27 pm | #17

          I think it is a good way to practice. Perhaps I should do the same to improve my German.

  8. January 29, 2013 at 3:51 am | #18

    Curiously, a couple of Taniguchi’s books are among the only graphic novels I’ve read (they were introduced to me in France, naturally). Quartier lointain and L’homme qui marche were both quite memorable, especially the atmosphere of the former. I too share the frustration that his work is scarce in English; even when translated, as the above two have been, they’re rare and unaffordable here in the U.S.

    • January 29, 2013 at 8:03 pm | #19

      So these two ones are good as well. I’ve seen them and I was tempted. Good to know.

  9. January 29, 2013 at 6:08 pm | #20

    I can tell you the manga I would like someone else to read, so I can read about it. I’ll bet you library has it, Emma!

    Les Gouttes de Dieu by Tadashi Agi is a manga series about Burgundy wine. Some of the panels are lovingly re-created wine labels. How any of this works as a story is beyond me.

    • January 29, 2013 at 8:02 pm | #21

      Thanks for the recommendation but No, thanks. I’d rather read the second volume of Fifty Shades of Grey in French than read a book about wine. :-)

  10. January 30, 2013 at 1:30 pm | #22

    It sounds excellent. It is hard to review graphic novels isn’t it? I think the key is to focus, as you did, on the art as much as the words. Too often people focus on the writing, but it’s not a novel with pictures, it’s a combination of art and words.

    Fires historically have been a huge issue in Japan, as well as earthquakes of course. Lots of wooden houses all packed together on the limited inhabitable space they have. A bad fire can easily destroy much of a city, and often has.

    Interesting in how the graphic element helped show background details which novels assumed and so didn’t show. Nice too how it can use art to bring out differences like that between the two wedding outfits.

    It is odd isn’t it how manga have those semi-westernised features for the characters? I don’t know the history enough to know why, though I imagine it’s partly an influence from Western comics. Still, all comic art is stylised in one way or another, why shouldn’t this be?

    Great review. Shame I can’t actually read it…

    • January 30, 2013 at 9:50 pm | #23

      Yes, it’s not easy to review. The pictures I included aren’t as good as yours but I couldn’t write this billet without showing at least one or two pages.

      What you write about fires reminds me of what Steven Saylor describes of popular neighbourhoods in Rome.

      In a way, it’s odd to see the characters with these big eyes but I expected it because of all the cartoons I’ve watched as a kid. Did you have them in England too? I think it’s become a code of the genre.

      Your French may be good enough to read it, you know. Even if Le Journal de mon père is well-written, it’s not Proust. (btw, In Search of Lost Time is available in comic books by Stéphane Heuet. I just wonder how it can work)

      PS I’ve just noticed that my online bookstore’s slogan is “books, novels, comics, crime fiction, mangas and ebooks” Mangas have a special place.

      • January 30, 2013 at 10:17 pm | #24

        That makes sense actually, I think of comics and manga as slightly different – and with very different artistic traditions. I read comics far more than I do manga.

        I’ll look out for it, it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve read a comic in French (I used to improve my Italian by reading their comics, some very good).

        It is reminiscent of Rome, same phenomenon. Interesting.

        • January 30, 2013 at 10:50 pm | #25

          We have comics at home, my husband likes them. I read some of them but I’m not a great fan of the fantasy ones.

  11. gregory
    October 24, 2013 at 12:57 am | #26

    I’ve noticed a lot of people leaving comments have expressed their frustration in finding English translations of this this book/manga/graphic novel (I’m not sure how best to describe it). you can find english scans of Jiro Taniguchi’s work here: http://www.mangapark.com/author/taniguchi+jiro and specifically my fathers almanac/my fathers journal here: http://manga.animea.net/my-fathers-journal-chapter-1.html

    The stories he tells are truly amazing. His earlier collaborative work i find less appealing but the stuff he has written and illustrated himself is amazing. Alot of semi-autobiographical stories based on his upbringing in tottori and his domestic life. I would say my favorites and what i consider his most personal works worth reading are Harukana Machi-E/A distant neighbourhood, Aruku Hito/The walking man and Ino o Kau/Rasing a dog.

    I hope you get the chance to read these Emma, they really are worth it, even if you aren’t a great fan of graphic novels/manga. The last 3 titles mentioned can all be read on the first link of my post

    • October 26, 2013 at 5:02 pm | #27

      Hello Gregory,

      Thanks for dropping by, commenting and sharing this useful link.

      I’ll have a look at the titles you mentioned.
      I’m not familiar with mangas and I don’t read any, more because I don’t know where to start than anything else.

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